Fighting Food Stamp Stigma

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fighting food stamp stigma who really uses food stamps

I’ve written before about the disgusting memes regarding food stamp recipients, comparing them to wild animals or worse. Well, it’s rearing it’s ugly head again (and I do mean ugly, what is uglier than denying children food??) because of proposed legislation in Missouri that would ban food stamp recipients from buying steak and seafood.

Let’s talk about this for a moment or two.

1. Some people are irresponsible with food stamps (now called SNAP).

Yes, it’s true. If you watch Fox News or any other conservative media outlet you probably believe the majority of food stamp recipients are irresponsible in life. You probably believe they’re lazy, don’t want to work, covered in tattoos, smokers, and most likely drug-addicted. And you know what, some are, but not the majority. The food stamp fraud rate is less than 4%.

Also, the general population’s rate of drug use is much higher than the rate among food stamp recipients. I live in a state that experimented with drug testing all residents who applied for food stamps. 2.5% of applicants tested positive for drugs whereas 8.9% of the general population tests positive for illicit drugs.

Some facts about who uses food stamps:
76% of recipients are families with children, 2/3 of those being single parent households
16% go to disabled persons
9% go to senior citizens
43% of food stamp recipients are white
25% of military families apply for food stamps

2. People on food stamps have budgets, just like you do. If they choose to spend $20 on steak there is likely a good reason, like a birthday to celebrate. When the SNAP money runs out, it runs out. Unlike most people who aren’t using SNAP, they don’t have extra to make up for it. Today if I go over budget on groceries it’s not a big deal, I can divert money from savings to make up the deficit. When we were on food stamps I didn’t have that safety net, every single purchase was carefully thought about before it hit the check out belt. When we were at our worst I couldn’t afford to buy my child a birthday gift but dammit I could buy her steak for dinner. And I did.

The average family on food stamps receives just $275/month. That’s not enough to feed a family despite what the media or those Facebook memes tell you.

3. Conservatives are always screaming for less government oversight with guns and religion but when it comes to how the poor eat they want more government policing. Because it’s welfare. Oh how the rules don’t seem to apply to the poor people. Or women, who incidentally, collect more in food stamps than men.

When did our country devolve so much that we want to police what poor people eat? We should be concentrating on ways to provide all people with safe, nutritious, and shelf-stable foods, not simply denying certain items!

Both sides are to blame here, however. Unfortunately food labeling has become such a hot issue that it’s causing food to increase in price and restricting availability. It isn’t a problem for me to find fresh produce here in suburbia, but it is a problem in many cities where it’s expensive to bring fresh produce in. Also, the banning of certain ingredients by legislation sets up a dangerous precedence for the government to have the leeway to ban food from certain households.

In reality, food stamp recipients are more likely to be malnourished and overweight but it has nothing to do with food stamps, rather, it has to do with the availability of shelf-stable quality food. The current craze to label even the simplest of foods with organic/natural/GMO-free only makes this problem worse by increasing the cost of the healthiest foods.

4. There is a ton of stigma around using SNAP and thankfully most people will never have to face it. If the people who try to pass laws like this could spend just one month, even just one grocery shopping trip, with an EBT card they may feel differently. I challenge the legislature of Missouri and those who compare food stamp recipients to wild animals to go to the grocery store and pay with an EBT card.

I challenge the people who are so against providing our citizens food stamps to come up with a meal plan and shop without going over their food stamp allowance. I’m not talking about the Food Stamp Challenge, anyone can live on the budget for a few days without becoming scarred for life.

I challenge state lawmakers to dress in everyday clothing and shoes and display their EBT card in the aisle while waiting to check-out and I dare them to look around at the people giving them “the look”. Anyone who has been on food stamps knows what I mean. Many years ago food stamps were actually a booklet of “money”, they sort of looked like dollars but in different colors. You had to count out your total, tear the “stamps” out of the booklet, and hand them to the cashier. Your change was given to you in food stamps if it was more than $1.

Today you don’t get the stamps, you’re given an EBT card. This has helped a lot but it’s not enough. Everyone knows what it means when the person in front of you pulls out a debit card that looks like an American flag, and let me tell ya, there is nothing patriotic about the looks people give you when they see that card. If you’re lucky they won’t say anything, but sometimes they do, and it’s not nice at all.

5.The truth is that only 11% of your tax dollars fund “Safety Net Programs“, AND CHANCES ARE YOU ARE A RECIPIENT OF THESE SAFETY NET FUNDS. 11% of all tax dollars fund the program that funds SNAP, the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit, SSI, the School Lunch Program, low income housing assistance, and several other programs. That’s a whole lot of programs competing for those funds.

6. In the end, food stamp recipients are humans. They’re people like you and me. Before you dare say “Not like me! I’m not like them!” let me remind you that I wasn’t either. I was the wife of a man who made over $100K a year. I was the woman with a year’s worth of expenses saved. I was the woman who paid for new vehicles in cash. All it took was one extended lay-off and one serious illness for us to lose everything. If it happened to us it can happen to you too.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen to you but if it does, email me and I can help you make the most of those dollars. I’ll give you a shoulder to cry on when someone says something nasty about you being a waste of space at the grocery store. I’ll be there for you when you use food stamps to buy your child M&Ms for their birthday gift.

Who Uses Food Stamps, Fighting Food Stamp Stigma

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9 thoughts on “Fighting Food Stamp Stigma

  • Anita

    I agree 100% Meg. I’ve been there twice. Once when I was a single mom going through a divorce with a new baby and I got $25 dollars a month. With that and wic my son ate and many times I didn’t because I had bills and diapers to pay. The second time was about 3-4 yrs ago when construction was way down. Between me and my new husband we barely had money for bills and daycare. We hot $125 a month. It helped but then again there were times one of us wouldn’t eat so our son could. I don’t judge people who go on snap. Sometimes it is necessary to get through when you can’t on your own. I know the stare you get. I never was told anything rude or mean though.

  • Kelly Green

    Well thought out and expressed, Meg. Adding MORE red tape to the system cannot be the answer and being selective on steak (hamburger is ground steak, so…) is just silly. I am, however, for labeling GMOs.

  • Jeff Wetherington

    Thank you for speaking truth to power. We need to stop vilifying people who have a need. The economy has been in the gutter and even today there are too many children who don’t get to eat if they don’t get food stamps or meals at school. We should be ashamed for our treatment and attitude of those in need.

  • Michelle Snow

    I remember growing up, my family had to use the food stamp booklets – the derision we’d get from fellow shoppers was horrible. At least the card is easier to conceal and use. I agree a lot of families have these because they truly need them and aren’t abusing the system. You can only spend what they give you. Thankfully couponing helps many better feed their families with what little they are given, but it would be nice if the nutritious food was as cheap as the processed stuff. Really good post! =)

  • karen

    I am absolutely sure that I was one of THOSE people looking at the cart of the stamp recipient thinking….wow…they can afford THAT?! How can they be ALLOWED to get chips and soda….clearly not nutritious at all.
    Well…….If you were behind me in line a few days before Christmas you would have seen my cart laden with chocolates, fancy nuts, juice,fancy breads and stocking candy. Peanut butter filled pretzels and Peter Pan peanut butter sat on top of tiny, one serving Kellogg’s cereal boxes and juice boxes. Yes, the faces were there….the cashier’s as well….I feel like I need to wear a sign…MY HUSBAND FELL OFF OUR ROOF 3 YEARS AGO AND HASN”T WORKED, I am disabled and homeschool.
    My three kids, my extra kid and her spouse, my husband and best friend were the recipients of those fancy gifts. I packaged them in giant gift bags from years gone by and filled the bags with tissue paper that has been reused for 20 years. The room was full—as was my heart.
    Food stamps allows us to be a little bit “normal”.
    Thank you.

  • Teri B Clark

    I have begun working with homeless families and the stigmas are huge. Having been on SNAP, back when it was foodstamps with little tearable coupons, SNAP when the cards came out, church welfare, and Medicaid at different points in my life, I understand that truly anyone can need help. Then I read this statistic and realized that anyone can become homeless as well: The Corporation for Economic Development determined that in 2013, 44% of Americans didn’t have enough savings to survive more than 3 months if they lost their jobs. That’s approximately 132 million people that are within 3 months of being homeless. If these 132 million people were to lose a job, get laid off, or say, live in Columbia SC where a natural disaster has ruined many businesses in the recent flood, they would find themselves to be homeless.

    And what’s worse is this. If you are homeless, truly without an address, you can’t get foodstamps. No address = no help.